Seven ways to show 'tangible gratitude' toward volunteers

Ways to show appreciation

"Tangible gratitude" is one of the four "appreciation languages" I encourage leaders of volunteers to use.

Appreciation of volunteers is something all leaders of volunteers do (or should do) throughout the day. Sometimes, though, a simple pat on the back or a once-a-year appreciation event just isn’t enough. For those volunteers who go above and beyond, here are seven ideas for showing your appreciation in a more tangible way.

• Handwritten thank you notes—One of the most simple yet impactful of gestures, heartfelt thank-you notes can go a long way. Take a moment to sit down and acknowledge a volunteer's contributions and highlight the positive impact they've made in writing. A handwritten note shows that you genuinely value their efforts. Extra points if you put it in the mail. Everyone likes getting mail that isn’t a bill.

• Recognition awards—Years ago, my husband managed a beer-league softball team. At the end of each season, he and a couple of other people sat down and came up with goofy, handmade awards for every player on the team, not just the most home runs or the best pitching, but the “snack award” for the player who brought potato chips to every game, or the “crutch award” for the player who was injured in the first game (but still came out to each game and cheered the team on). While you might not be able to do an award for every volunteer, consider creating fun awards that celebrate volunteers' dedication and milestones. You can recognize achievements like the number of clients served, special skills utilized, or significant contributions to specific projects. And include some goofy ones just for fun.

• Volunteer events—Host events exclusively for volunteers as a token of appreciation. These don’t have to be an official appreciation event, just a fun get-together. Whether it's a casual picnic, a movie night, or a fun workshop, these gatherings provide an opportunity for volunteers to bond, relax, and feel connected to the organization and each other. I serve on the board of a therapeutic riding association, and once we held a riding lesson just for the volunteers.

• Swag—You probably already do this one but if you don’t, consider it. Design and distribute custom merchandise such as t-shirts, hats or tote bags that volunteers can proudly use. This not only gives them a tangible reminder of their contribution but also acts as a conversation starter about your organization's mission. (I love things that are multi-functional)

• Growth opportunities—Show your commitment to volunteers' growth by offering workshops or training sessions that enhance their existing skills. It may take some investment, but it demonstrates your desire to help them succeed both within and outside of their volunteer roles.

• References—Be a job or school reference, or do other things that can help them succeed in their lives outside of the organization. By being willing to help them in all areas of their lives, you show how much you value their contribution to the organization.

• Discounts or perks—Partner with local businesses to provide volunteers with discounts or perks as a token of appreciation. Whether it's a free coffee, a discounted meal, or access to exclusive events, these partnerships add extra value to their volunteer experience. Many companies, especially chain stores and restaurants, are happy to donate coupons or tickets to local charities. It gives them bragging rights and marketing opportunities, so don’t feel shy about asking.

Remember, appreciation, including tangible gratitude, is an ongoing process, not a one-time event.

Regularly engage with your volunteers, listen to their feedback, and continuously look for ways to improve their experience. By showing appreciation in tangible ways, you create a culture of gratitude that not only retains existing volunteers but also attracts new ones who are excited to contribute to your cause.

Incorporate these meaningful gestures into your volunteer program, and watch as the bond between your organization and its volunteers grows stronger. Your commitment to recognizing their dedication will not only enhance their experience but also contribute to the long-term success of your organization’s mission.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Karen Knight has provided volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations for more than 25 years.

Her professional life has spanned many industries, working in both the private and public sectors in various leadership positions.

Through her passion for making a difference in the world, she has gained decades of experience in not-for-profits as a leader and a board member.

Karen served in Toastmasters International for more than 25 years, in various roles up to district director, where she was responsible for one of the largest Toastmasters districts in the world.

She oversaw a budget of $250,000 and 300 individual clubs with more than 5,000 members. She had 20 leaders reporting directly to her and another 80 reporting to them—all volunteers.

Karen currently serves as vice-president of the board of directors for the Kamloops Therapeutic Riding Association.

After many years working and volunteering with not-for-profits, she found many leaders in the sector have difficulty with aspects of volunteer programs, whether in recruiting the right people, assigning those people to roles that both support the organization’s mission and in keeping volunteers enthusiastic.

Using hands-on experience, combined with extensive study and research, she helps solve challenges such as volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations.

Karen Knight can be contacted at [email protected], or through her website at https://karenknight.ca/.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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